Redefining the New Panthers: Tomas Kopecky
It didn't take long for Dale Tallon to make his mark on the Florida Panthers. Over the course of two weeks fans of all teams were awed as Tallon and Mike Santos drafted 10 prospects and brought in 10 new roster players to completely reshape and reinvigorate the Panthers. The players drafted this year should all be considered long-term projects, but the trades and signings made were for real NHL players with real NHL contracts. Each player brought in has different qualities and concerns, but the objective as always is to make the Panthers a better team.
Tomas Kopecky is no superstar, in fact, it would be a bit of a stretch to even say he is a star of any kind. Stuck as a fourth-liner playing only two full seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, and 2 seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, Kopecky has won the Stanley Cup twice, but he is far from being a household name. When Dale Tallon made the trade for the impending UFA, there were a few eyebrows raised as to what the 29 year old right winger could bring to the Panthers if he actually decided to sign with the club. Kopecky's role may be limited with Florida and he probably wont see 2nd line minutes, but it seems Tomas' style of play is something Tallon continues to want on his team.
#82 / Right Wing / Florida Panthers
Feb 05, 1982
The rights to pending UFA Tomas Kopecky were quietly acquired on June 27th, just 3 days before Tomas was slated to hit the open market, for a 7th round pick in either 2012 or 2013. What makes this move interesting is that Tallon had made the trade for Kopecky's teammate Brian Campbell two days before to continue siphoning talent from his former club. Now, this move didn't exactly result in another joyous uproar in PantherNation as another team had tried made a similar move to no avail. Though nothing assured that Tallon's pick wouldn't just go to waste on July 1st if Kopecky hadn't signed, I for one welcome Tallon's propensity to take a risk to sign a good player. Yes, if Kopecky hadn't signed we would have been mired in "the sky is falling" talks as cynics mourned the lost of a 7th rounder, but even so--big deal, it was a 7th rounder. Don't forget how Mike Santos traded away a 5th rounder (ultimately a 4th) to pick up Mike Santorelli, it's essentially the same idea. Take a risk, if it doesn't work out then cut your losses. Thankfully that wasn't necessary as Kopecky signed a deal on June 29th.
Kopecky's contract of $12 million over four years was a tough pill for most Panthers fans to swallow. For a 29 year old player who has only scored 15 goals once (even then it was on a line with superstar Marian Hossa), the contract was overpayment. Would Tallon have signed Kopecky for $12 million had the Panthers not been the most cash flushed and spending desperate team in the league? I doubt it, in fact I sure hope he wouldn't. This assessment is not a knock on Kopecky, every team needs players like him, but in fairness Kopecky simply would never see that kind of money sent his way unless a team was in the Panthers' position. I can't justify the overpayment, only Tomas can.
Kopecky's stats over his 4 full seasons in the NHL:
No, these aren't the greatest numbers in the world, especially when you compare them to contract figures, but it isn't exactly quantity as it is quality in Kopecky's case. Do a quick search of Kopecky's goals on Youtube and you'll notice one thing in common, they aren't highlight reel, put-on-a-clinic goals, most are just rebounds, crashing the net, tip ins resulting from good positioning. Kopecky doesn't seem like a natural goal scorer, but his courage is definitely needed on the Panthers. Kopecky battles in front of the net, fights for the puck, isn't afraid to hit and is perfectly willing to drop the gloves. In fact, my initial impressions of Kopecky weren't unlike the impressions I had of Ian Laperriere when he played with the Avalanche. Assuming Kopecky finds himself on the third line, it seems only natural that his role will switch from the 2nd line scoring emphasis he had in Chicago back to a grinding energy player in Florida (as he was in Detroit).
Though Kopecky will not be playing with Marian Hossa, expect good things out of him for the minutes he is given. If Tomas does indeed see 3rd line time, 8-10 goals and 15-20 assists would be a huge upgrade over the Panthers third liners of last season. To add to that, Kopecky's likely linemates are Marcel Goc and Sean Bergenheim, two players who can put up 30+ points easily. Yes, it's probably reasonable to expect Kopecky's points total to drop by some amount, but I'd be very surprised if he didn't finish the season with at least 30 points.
And so Dale Tallon brings another NHL quality player to a Florida team once distinguished by an AHL roster. Kopecky has a lot to prove to his critics, the justification of his big contract and maintaining his point totals mainly, but even at 29 he still has time to improve his game. If it means an energy role, who's complaining? I'd rather see Kopecky making big hits and battling for the puck even if it means sacrificing some offensive output. If Kopecky can mold to the new system of Kevin Dineen, there is still a lot of promise for Tomas Kopecky.